Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: Split by Stefan Petrucha

As mentioned yesterday, two very different books titled Split were released in March. While I originally thought I could make a double review out of them, they turned out to be so different I decided to go with a back-to-back approach, so here's the science fiction version of Split.

When Wade's mother dies, he finds himself conflicted with how to move on with his life. Should he re-dedicate himself to his studies and stay on the straight and narrow? Or is life without a mother hardly worth living, so he should drop out and drift?

Fast forward three years later, and in the style of Sliding Doors we get to see the outcomes of both decisions. One Wade has dropped out of school, run away from home where his father has fallen off the wagon, and is now living above the coffee shop called The Rat where he plays music to pay rent and entertains his friend Ant and exasperated girlfriend Denby. He also likes to do small-time cons to entertain himself, which is how he ends up with a stolen diamond studded car - originally Ant was supposed to deliver it to the fence, but through a convoluted series of events, it ends up in Wade's hands.

The other Wade is a straight A student, still living with his dad and encouraging him to attend AA meetings so he stays on the wagon. He's still best friends with Ant - called Anthony here - and has proposed to Denby, though she hasn't agreed to the engagement yet. Instead of working cons, this Wade has thrown himself into writing a computer program to prove that the town's particle accelerator could destroy the world. When Wade shows the results of the computer program to the higher-ups at the accelerator, he discovers that not everyone is as eager to protect the world as he is; they're concerned with destroying the livelihoods of many of the town's citizens (and their own paychecks, of course) if the particle accelerator is shut down. We the readers get to see exactly what happens to the town without the particle accelerator - end of the world fears shut down the accelerator shortly after it was started in the other Wade's world, leading to widespread unemployment and economic depression.

Each Wade has strange dreams, seeing himself as the other Wade. As both of their lives are tumbling out of control, by chance they end up at their mother's grave - and by accidentally exchanging the car and the flash drive with the computer program on it, the two Wade's end up exchanging lives. Finding themselves in a world that is totally different, yet utterly familiar, each version of Wade has to find a way to save himself from the other's problems.

Maybe it's because I was reading this the day after I watched the big Lost finale, but the early chapters were giving me traumatic flashbacks, as each Wade was having flashes of himself in his other life. Definitely reminded me of the flash-sideways we were seeing through season 6, when the characters would get flashes of their island lives. Thankfully the trope was abandoned after a few chapters, because not only didn't I need the Lost thoughts, but it was actually kind of annoying to see the events of the last chapter immediately re-capped.

This is not an in-depth science fiction novel for the hard-core enthusiast. Both Wade's are rather shallowly drawn, and there's such an emphasis on action that it's hard to keep track of either Wade's motivation. I'm still not sure if straitlaced Wade was hoping to find the particle accelerator was dangerous or not. I also would have loved some sort of explanation of why there are two different Wade's - does Petrucha subscribe to the multiverse theory? Or maybe it was caused by the particle accelerator experiments? And why were they able to change places?

The supporting cast is no more well developed than the Wades. Both Wades' attitudes towards the girlfriend, Denby, was extremely annoying. She seemed to exist solely to reflect the two Wades' attitudes towards life. At least Ant/Anthony got to actually take part in both adventures - Denby was just there as an example of how controlling Straightedge Wade was and how careless or manipulative Slacker Wade could be.

If you're looking strictly for a SF-tinged action/adventure story, this is for you - but if you want something with well-rounded characters and development, you'd best look elsewhere.
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